EXCLUSIVE: Anupam Sinhal, BookmyBai’s founder says, “I will be out of business if I don’t have the ‘religion’ filter on my portal”
Religious discrimination to me is when a Muslim maid comes to me and I tell her that I cannot advertise her on my site because of her religion. I’m instead giving my customers an option by allowing them to filter maids on bookmybai by their religion, says Anupam Sinhal, founder and man of the hour, almost matter-of-factly.
“When we started BookmyBai six months ago, the website initially didn’t have the option of letting users filter by religion. It was only added after occurrences related to customers not being aware of the maid’s religion arose,” he adds.
Once a Hindu employer who had used our site to book the services of a domestic help refused to let her in his house on knowing that she was Muslim, Sinhal tells me.
And, this wasn’t an isolated incident. Once these occurrences got too frequent, he decided it’s time he made the religion of the maids public.
According to Sinhal, the decision was based on three reasons. “Firstly, incidents like these were unsatisfying for a customer and would lead to him not using our site or recommending it to anyone. Secondly, a situation like this is highly embarrassing for the maid who’s just been denied a fair chance of work only because her god isn’t the same as her prospective employer’s. Thirdly, not allowing users to filter by religion increased our workload and diminished our credibility. I had angry customers call up and inform me that I am guilty of not providing all the information that I should have.”
“Plus, I wouldn’t have been in business if I didn’t do it,” he adds.
(How the listings on the BookmyBai site look like)
Mumbai-based Bookmybai is an online portal that allows a user to book a domestic help online without having to be at the mercy of maid agencies. The portal claims to have 10,00 verified candidates in Mumbai and Pune who can carry out services such as cleaning, cooking and even child or elderly care.
Elaborating on that, Sinhal is of the opinion that though he is unhappy that most people have misread their ad and our intentions, he is ready to swallow all the criticism up if his controversial ‘religion’ filter can actually end up providing jobs to domestic maids.
According to him, India is a country where religion poses a sacrosanct question in almost every field, whether we like it or not. And, he is certain that more employers are open to the idea of booking the services of a maid online only because they have all the necessary information, including their religion.
“It’s a matter of safety and convenience, really,” Sinhal states.
In the last few days however, this portal made headlines for a variety of reasons- the chief among them being criticized for reinforcing age-old religious bias. The fact that BookmyBai also allowed an user to shortlist maids based on the region they’re from apart from the languages they speak and their experience also did not go down well with a lot of people, who’re of the opinion that information such as these should be fairly irrelevant.
Adding insult to injury, their ad campaign too drew severe backlash on social media with Twitter users branding it as a ‘human slavery ad’ and claiming that it was commodifying domestic maids.
(The advertisement that sparked the outrage- put up in Lokhandwala area in Mumbai)
The wording of the print ad in question said ‘Diamonds are useless! Gift your wife a maid’ and was accompanied by a picture of a happy couple and a domestic help.
Even as everyone on social media labeled the ad as ‘sexist’, Sinhal on the other hand still believes there is nothing sexist with the ad.
“The brief given to the in-house team was to create a campaign that would grab eyeballs and which was humorous. The aim was to get readers to register the ad and the website in their heads. And, I believe the campaign delivered on both those grounds. What I don’t seem to understand is this mass outrage as the ad was supposed to be taken in a lighthearted manner. We could have avoided the word ‘gift’ with the word ‘get,’ but otherwise I don’t see a problem.”
He adds, “I am an educated man myself. Why would I want to be sexist when 90% of my business depends on women?”
There was another troubling allegation. And, an equally troubling admission accompanying it.
A Reddit user found out that the testimonials of the happy customers on the BookmyBai portal were accompanied by stock images of people and in reality did not belong to the customers themselves.
This threw up questions regarding the website’s credibility and their methods of marketing and publicity. It also posed a worrying thought on everyone’s minds- “If the pictures can be fake, can the testimonials and the customers, too?”
Jumping to his defense on the issue, Sinhal reveals that BookmyBai had outsourced the design of the website to an agency who had used those stock images for purposes of testing as Sinhal did not possess the pictures of his customers.
“I was aware of the fact that the pictures used were accurate. But, it was only meant for testing out the look of the website. Our only fault was that we forgot to take off the pictures from the site once that was done. We have done the needful now. In no way are we advertising anything that isn’t 100% accurate. All are testimonials are from customers who are satisfied with our service,” he clarifies.
On being asked how could such an important matter ‘slip’ his mind, he is quick to add, “The images of my clients are the last thing in my mind right now.”
Image credit: BookmyBai.com/Reddit India